There was only one item on the Agenda for last night’s General Purposes Committee and the chances of getting away from it within 15 minutes or so appeared to be good.
For a GP meeting there was a decent turnout, five members of the public and two councillors as spectators. The evening started well, I held the door open for the snooty Linda Bailey, there were not enough Agendas to go round and the Committee Officer Sandra Baxter noticed and offered me her own. I declined but swapped the offer for a sheet of writing paper because I had mislaid my notebook and councillor Steven Hall engaged in friendly chit chat.
It was everything a council meeting should be.
Ms. Baxter asked if I would be taking photos and I said I would snatch a quick one or two before the meeting began so as not to disrupt proceedings and then pack the camera away. I have been to enough General Purposes meetings to know that nothing very interesting happens that might warrant an excess of photography.
Photo taken before meeting started. Cllr. Bailey appears to be fully aware of it but raised no objection.
And so the meeting began. The new chairman, councillor
Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) asked that members pay special
attention to microphones and made the customary formal announcement about recording and asked
who might be taking photographs…
… and all hell broke loose.
Well maybe a small exaggeration but I said I wouldn’t be taking pictures because “I took one of you before we started”.
Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) objected to the taking of photographs and councillor Sharon Massey (Conservative, Danson Park) commented that my photography was an offence against some unspecified law relating to the Protection of Adults. At first I thought Betts was only objecting to the taking of photographs before the meeting started…
…but no, he was bent on ensuring his elevation in these pages from almost unknown
nonentity to buffoon and would-be law breaker. He wanted no photos at all.
He objected on the grounds that the council webcast meetings, that anything else was unnecessary and unwanted and I should be removed from the room if I reached for my camera again. (General Purposes is not webcast.)
councillor Betts for providing better reading material for today than would
otherwise be the case - Linda Bailey interjected that no one reads it - and felt obliged to remind councillor Betts of the law. (Link below.)
See you in court!
Note: I have always felt that at small meetings where photography may become intrusive it is better to take a scene setting shot just before the meeting commences and no one has ever objected.
However if Bexley council is going to restrict photography to only when the meeting is in progress I shall be more than happy to bring along a large tripod and a 450mm lens and pick my own spot instead of theirs so that I can peer over their heads.
Maybe a video camera too.
Click image for Government source web page.
The chairman dealt with the idiot in their midst in exemplary fashion by telling
him he would deal with the matter at another time. If only all chairmen were as
level headed in a crisis.
Councillor Cheryl Bacon please take note.
The meeting got down to the business in hand which was to debate the Revised Disciplinary and Dismissal Procedures for the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and Monitoring Officer. Maybe what I was told about a possible prison sentence for Will Tuckley while in Greenwich police station has become more widely known.
The procedure was explained by Lorraine Barlow, Head of HR Advisory Services, and she was given quite a hard time. The principal dissent was over the manner in which any disciplinary hearing should be recorded.
Labour councillor Alan Deadman (North End) explained how important it was to get agreed notes. Councillor Sharon Massey said that might end up with people “sitting here all night”.
Alan Deadman reiterated that “with something as important as this” it was important to get the notes agreed “there and then” while memories were fresh but was told it would be “a practical nightmare”.
A note taker was the established tradition but every Conservatives who offered an opinion thought that an audio recording made more sense. Ms. Barlow was not happy with that and said the equipment “might not be entirely accurate because of volumes and people’s ability to make their voices clearly heard” (how very true) but more tellingly that it was not the procedure recommended by the national body which governs such things (ACAS).
At one time the recording idea was backed by councillor Andy Dourmoush (Conservative, Longlands) sitting in the public gallery but he was slapped down by bossy boots Sharon Massey who told him that he couldn’t speak until the chairman had invited him to do so. She constantly makes such interjections which are none of her business.
Vice-chairman Betts moved that the proposed procedures should all be adopted and although I saw councillor Aileen Beckwith (who had earlier spoken in favour of audio recording) raise her hand as seconder, the tape reveals that it was Ms. Bossy Boots who was credited with the dubious honour.
The Labour and UKIP members voted against the proposals because of the note taking stipulations.
The Labour/UKIP objections were based in particular on “the notes will not require formal agreement of all parties”. They feel that the tried and tested arrangement whereby notes are written on triple ’carbon’ (NCR) paper and agreed or amended where necessary by all parties immediately after the meeting is the only secure option. As much time as is necessary should be taken to reach that agreement because of the vitally important issues at stake. The possible dismissal of a Chief Executive.
This was the procedure adopted when Mick Barnbrook and others were interviewed by the police in connection with the investigation into councillor Cheryl Bacon’s lies. It took longer to agree the notes than it did to make the statement but at least everyone was in full agreement by the end.
What I found odd is that every Conservative who spoke, with, ironically, councillor Betts taking the lead, was in favour of audio recording yet they voted in favour of the proposed procedures which clearly state that “Recording of the hearing will not be permitted”. Maybe they didn’t notice that bit.
Why they cannot do both I have no idea. With maybe half a million compensation due to departing high ranking council officers one would think that every precaution should be taken - and at just one of the meetings I recorded I pressed the wrong button when closing the recorder down and lost the lot. I have listened to a large number of council audio recordings, quite often it is difficult to differentiate between two or more speakers.
Rejoice! Bexley has a new plonker. It’s been far too long.